What is a "Messiah"?
Recently we've been studying the Book of Hosea together as a church body during our Sunday morning gatherings. This past week, I had the privilege of teaching on Hosea 3 and I highlighted an important piece of the text that scholars identify as "messianic". In other words, the verse(s) labeled as such are attached to the coming one who is known as "Messiah". There was so much that I didn't say because of time (including actually defining the term, so please forgive me for that), that I wanted to continue the conversation with anyone who (like me) wanted to dig deeper and understand the importance and implications of "Messiah". This matters because if we misunderstand what the Bible says, we'll walk away with something completely different than what it teaches. Yet even though I'm writing this now, this is NOT exhaustive by any means. This is simply continuing the conversation so we can continue to know Jesus our King better.
Defining our terms
The title "Messiah" is Hebrew for "anointed one". "Christ" is its Greek equivalent. Both are titles. The Old Testament reveals that there are two "offices" within the people of God who are "anointed" by God for their particular task: the king and the priests. That the coming Messiah would be a figure who would embody both roles is not foreign to the Old Testament. In fact, after God led His people out of Egypt, He declared that He would make them into a kingdom of priests:
you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
For there to be an anointed "ONE", he/she would be one who embodied both the kingly and priestly role. Because of this, "Messiah" came to be a "catchall" shorthand for the one whom God has promised to send, who would restore the fortunes and health of God's people (and thus the world) and would reign on the throne of David. When we read the term "Messiah" or "Christ", these are the connotations that accompany it. With one word/title, all of the hopes, expectations, and promises from the Old Testament come pouring to the forefront. So how does this connect with Jesus and the New Testament? From the outset of the beginning of the New Testament, Matthew writes:
"This is the genealogy (an account of origin) of Jesus the Messiah (Christ) the son of David, the son of Abraham"
How many times have we just glossed over this verse, treating it as just an editorial note that the writer "has to add" to make the "editor" happy, but really you can just skip over it and get to the "good stuff"? Would it surprise you to know, that Matthew specifically began his gospel account in this manner on purpose? He didn't have to, but he did. Mark, Luke, and John all began their gospel accounts differently (though Luke does include his own version of the genealogy in Luke 3), so take note that it was not mandatory that Matthew do so, yet he did. A big reason for this is because the people of Israel were awaiting (and had been waiting for a long time) for one who would come and restore the kingdom. According to the Old Testament text of 2 Samuel 7.16, this coming figure would be from the lineage of King David, as David's kingdom would last forever:
Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.
In fact, Matthew structures his family diagram of Jesus' ancestors in a specific way in order to drive home the point, arranging the "generations" in a way that numerically point to the Davidic lineage and promise (I won't write this out here, but if you're interested in seeing it, let me know).
To avoid the risk of getting too lengthy, I'll let this be the stopping point of this first entry. You take it from here. Here's a list of a few passages for you to check out and read on your own, to help you dig deeper into understanding the importance of "Messiah" not only to Jesus, but to our faithful obedience to him.
For our Christmas aficionados, here's some texts you traditionally hear around Christmas time.
Here's some non-Christmas related ones.